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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Parashat Shelah-Lekha: A Heart of Salvation

Parashat Shelah - Lekha
Bemidbar (Numbers) 13:1 - 15:41

In this parasha, Moses, at God's command, chooses one leader from each of the twelve tribes to serve as spies. Their mission is to enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and bring back a report to the people. "See what kind of country it is.....investigate its cities, people, soil, and forests and] bring back some of the fruit of the land," they are told. They do bring back grapes and other fruits, but ten of the twelve spies also bring back a report that, though the land is flowing "with milk and honey," it is filled with large fortified cities, "giants," and other dangerous inhabitants. Only two of the spies, Yehoahua/Joshua and Calev/Caleb, bring back a positive report and remind the people that God is with them, and so they can overcome any obstacle or enemy.

Unfortunately, the people are carried away by the negative report of the majority and wonder if Moses brought them this far out of Egypt only to die in the desert. As punishment for following the negative report of the ten spies, God declares that the Israelites will wander in the desert for forty years until this generation of adults dies. Joshua and Caleb will be the only ones of that generation allowed to enter the land.

This poem is based this on the names of the two spies who were allowed to enter the land. The first is Yehoshua, whose name means salvation. The second is Caleb, whose name I translate as can be translated as "like a heart." I believe the rest speaks for itself.

A Heart of Salvation

Yehoshua Calev
Salvation like a heart
That is us
We are one
The two
Who survived
The two
Who saw understood
The truth
The land
Flowing with milk and honey
Blessed by God
Waiting for us
To be ready
To enter

The others
Could not see
Their hearts
Salvation impossible
They saw
Giants danger obstacles
They saw
Ripe for the squashing

Did we really travel the same land

Walking the land
We saw
The same beauty
We saw
The same abundance

We ate
The same fruit
We carried
The same gifts
Back to the people

We returned
They forgot
All they had seen
Their hearts
A wall built around them
Unable to remember
Only fear trepidation
They could not trust

They did not believe
In salvation
They believed
In Giants
They could not trust
In God
They could only trust
Their small minds
Seeing themselves
As grasshoppers
Imagining others
Who never even saw them
see them
The same way

The mind creates
Visions images
That destroy

The mind creates
Building walls
Around the
Keeping God out
Fear in
Salvation at bay

The other ten
Are now gone
The plague
Of fear
Come to fruition

The people
Are doomed
Never to enter
The land
Never to achieve
Full salvation

But the children
Are blessed
They can begin
They can reclaim
The land
Our heritage
Of beauty and faith
Of belief
In Truth

We shall lead them
Yehoshua Calev
Salvation Like a Heart
To a place
Where they can

The same place
Their fathers saw
did not see
The same place
That was
their death
Will be
Their children's

Yehoshua Calev
We will be sure
That they see
With their
Open to all
The truths
The possibilities

They may still see
But they will realize
Are not doomed
They can escape
Be free
Can be theirs

Milk and honey will flow
In the land
From their lips
From their hearts
We will embrace
Land God

We will banish the giants
From our minds
A home
Filled with peace
For all the inhabitants thereof
In remembrance
Of the ten
And the hundreds of thousands
Unable to see
The Truth
With their hearts

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poetic Midrash on Parashat Be'haalotekha

This week's parashah is Be'haalotekha (Numbers/Be'midbar 8:1-12:16). At the
end of the last parashah God spoke to Moses from between the wings of the
cherubim that hovered over the Ark. This occured immediatel following the
completion of the building of the Mishkan/sanctuary. In the opening line of
Be'haalotekha, Moses is told to instruct Aaron concerning his ascent to kindle
the lights of the seven-branch menorah.

Many rabbis have commented on the symbolism of the menorah as the light of the
Divine. In addition, the Kabbalists/mystics imagined that the seven branches of
the menorah represented the seven lower sefirot/divine emanations that human
beings could experience in this world.

Light as representing God's presence is also found in the parashah in the image
of the fire enshrouded in the cloud that hovered over the Mishkan signifying
God's presence. According to the text, the fire/presence of God would be seen
within a cloud over the Mishkan by day and as fire by night (the same time when
the menorah was lit). When the cloud/fire would lift that was the signal to the
people that it was time for the community to move on. When the cloud would
again descend the people would stop and set up camp.

I see the role of the cloud/fire, as well as Aaron's responsibility to light the
lamps of the menorah, as indicative of the divine-human partnership of which we
are all a part. Moses may have been able to "hear" God's voice directly, we are
told, but we,who all have "priestly potential (see last week's commentary), are
the ones who can bring God's light into the world for all to see.

The Ascent

I ascend
To light
God's lamps

My brother
God's voice
From between
The wings of the cherubim
God speaks
To him
Not to me

I ascend
I see
I light
God's lamps
The sanctuary
God's house
My house
My soul

My brother
Or does he
God's voice
Only he knows

I know
I see
God's light
I enable
To see it

The lamps glow
My soul
Their warmth
Penetrates my heart

Each night
Fear descends
Among the people
I ascend
To light
For them
And me

Sees feels
The light
Love Strength
Majesty Endurance
Her Presence
Glorious Divine Light

Outside the tent
All can see
God's presence
Cloud by day
Fire by night
We stand still
Where we are
With fear
To love compassion mercy

God's light enshrouded
But we know
Is there

God's fire burns
Searing itself into soulmindheart
Reminding us of
The Presence

More readily seen
Than cloud
Blurring vision
Fogging the mind
Blocking the way
Burns it away
So we can see

The trick is
To see
The fire
In the cloud
The Presence
In the confusion
The not-quite-darkness-not-quite-light

The soul
Is the lamp of God
The lamp
Is at the heart of the cloud
The cloud
Is God's Glory
God's Presence
Unknowable illumination

Inside the Tent
Our sanctuary home
The lamp is lit
By me
By you
By us
God's partners

We all ascend
As One
To light the lamps
While Moses
Stands there
To the Voice
Between the cherubim

I act
We act
We light the lamps
We bring God's light
Into the tent
The world
I We
Create the fire in the cloud
Bring the Presence into the world
Lending clarity to a clouded world
Bringing mindfulness of the Presence
Into our lives

We have seen felt
The cloud the fire
The Presence
Can ascend
We can move on
That it he she
Will return
We least expect it
But when it does
Will we

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